OHSU

OHSU Heart Research Center Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary

02/11/04   Portland, Ore.

Researchers and clinicians in periodontology, pathology and neurology join forces to improve heart health

Amy LaFountaine doesn't know what it's like to enjoy a family vacation. Her mom had to spend all her vacation hours at the hospital with Amy as she underwent several surgeries and treatments for a congenital heart defect. "The hardest part is watching my family go through this," said Amy. "Even my nephew thinks visiting auntie [Amy] means a visit to the hospital."

The 27-year-old from Astoria was born with a congenital heart defect known as double inlet left ventricle. Instead of having two ventricles like most people, she was born with only her left ventricle, which prevented her heart from circulating necessary oxygen throughout the body. Amy underwent her first open-heart surgery at age 3 then received a pacemaker as she grew older and underwent another open-heart surgery just three years ago.

She's not alone. Approximately 40,000 babies each year in the United States are born with congenital heart defects, according to The Congenital Heart Information Network.

It's people like Amy that drive research at Oregon Health & Sciences University's Heart Research Center. For 10 years researchers in the HRC have studied why hearts like Amy's don't form properly, what new treatments can be developed to make repairs to these hearts more successful, and many other aspects of how to improve the health of our hearts.

"I think this research is important. I hope they find some way it [heart defects] can be corrected in utero, or find the genes that cause it so it can be stopped before a child or adult has to go through what I have," said Amy.

The HRC celebrates its 10th anniversary this February in conjunction with National Heart Day 2004. Today more than 100 researchers at Oregon Health & Science University from 30 different fields of medicine share information to help further advances in heart research through the HRC. Sharing research results and techniques has helped speed up the progress of OHSU's research into the development of the heart and related diseases.

A decade ago these same OHSU researchers in departments such as pediatrics, pathology and peridontology studied various aspects of the heart, but didn't share as much information with each other.

"Every new cardiac drug, therapy and surgical procedure comes from research, and research moves forward most quickly when scientists of every stripe work together," said Kent Thornburg, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Heart Research Center and professor of medicine (cardiology) in the OHSU School of Medicine.

The center helped get its start thanks to the support of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and his wife, Mylene, whose son died of a congenital heart defect and financial support from the state Legislature in 1993. Mylene also devoted time to the HRC as a former member of its Board of Governors. Since then the HRC's accomplishments have only grown.

One HRC study that provides the foundation for its research is a National Institutes of Health Program Project grant. The $5 million grant funds the core infrastructure for the HRC, which is utilized by all its researchers and includes its imaging facilities. The program's primary focus is its major investigation into the relationship between a mother's nutrition while pregnant, a baby's low birth weight and heart disease later in adult life.

Other successful projects during the last 10 years include:

  • The identification of the "jelly belly" gene in fruit flies. "Jelly belly" is required in the development of smooth muscle cells found in human hearts, guts, blood vessels and lungs. This discovery is key to the HRC's quest to identify embryonic genes that are linked to heart disease and may lead to new drugs to combat heart disease, cancer and neurological diseases.
  • The recent discovery of a new gene, CRELD 1, that is associated with common heart defects, atrioventricular septal defects, in the atria.
  • The discovery that increased blood levels of gamma A/gamma prime fibrinogen (a clotting factor) are associated with an increased risk for coronary artery disease.
  •  Women may have different risk factors for sudden death than men

What do areas as diverse as nephrology, neurology and periodontology have to do with the heart?

The heart is an amazingly complex organ, which affects and is affected by nearly every other organ or system in the body. From its origins as two simple tubes to its maturity as a four-chambered muscle pumping an average of 50 million gallons of blood in a lifetime, the heart has never been better understood - and yet we have so much more to discover. HRC members study the effects of nutrition, exercise, childhood environment, stroke and even dental health in order to contribute to a better understanding of how to improve worldwide heart health.

During the HRC's 10-year history, thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles have been published and numerous discoveries made thanks to the collaboration of these researchers and clinicians.

Most recently, the HRC partnered with David Barker, M.D., Ph.D., a visiting scholar to OHSU last fall, who has directed the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at Southampton University in Great Britain for the past 20 years. In March Barker will join the OHSU faculty as a quarter-time professor of medicine, working with Thornburg to develop joint programs between OHSU and the University of Southampton. This new partnership will provide OHSU scientists with access to the largest human health databases in the world.

Many HRC researchers will be sharing information about their studies with the medical and academic community at a special poster session on Wednesday, Feb. 11, in OHSU's BICC Gallery from 1 to 4 p.m.

But the HRC isn't just about the science of heart development, its mission also extends to patient and student education. This year's lecture by American Heart Association board president Augustus Grant, M.D., Ph.D., is a prime example. The public is invited to Grant's special lecture, "Advances in Heart Research: We've Come a Long Way" tonight, Feb. 11, at the OHSU Auditorium at 5:30 p.m.

Then, on Saturday, Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, pediatric cardiology HRC members will recognize National Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day with a recent proclamation by Oregon Gov. Kulongoski.

Amy knows the value of education. After completing a bachelor's degree in sociology, she now plans to return to Portland State University to study pre-medicine with the hope of one day becoming a family medicine physician in her hometown of Astoria.

The HRC consists of researchers from the following areas of expertise:
OHSU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
DEPARTMENT OF ANESTHESIOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF BEHAVIORAL NEUROSCIENCE
DEPARTMENT OF BIOCHEMISTRY & MOLECULAR BIOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF CELL & DEVELOPMENTAL BIOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE
DEPARTMENT OF MEDICAL INFORMATICS & CLINICAL EPIDEMIOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE
CARDIOLOGY DIVISION
ENDOCRINOLOGY, DIABETES & CLINICAL NUTRITION
INTERNAL MEDICINE DIVISION
MOLECULAR MEDICINE DIVISION
NEPHROLOGY & HYPERTENSION DIVISION
PULMONARY & CRITICAL CARE DIVISION
DEPARTMENT OF MOLECULAR & MEDICAL GENETICS
DEPARTMENT OF MOLECULAR MICROBIOLOGY & IMMUNOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF NEUROLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF PATHOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF PEDIATRICS
PEDIATRIC CARDIOLOGY DIVISION
PEDIATRIC CRITICAL CARE DIVISION
PEDIATRIC ENDOCRINOLOGY DIVISION
PEDIATRIC METABOLISM DIVISION
PEDIATRIC NEONATOLOGY DIVISION
PEDIATRIC RESEARCH DIVISION
DEPARTMENT OF PHYSIOLOGY & PHARMACOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF SURGERY
CARDIOTHORACIC SURGERY DIVISION
PEDIATRIC SURGERY DIVISION
OHSU SCHOOL OF NURSING
OGI SCHOOL OF SCIENCE & ENGINEERING, OHSU
CASEY EYE INSTITUTE, OHSU
VOLLUM INSTITUTE, OHSU
LEGACY HOLLADAY PARK MEDICAL CENTER
OREGON MEDICAL LASER CENTER
OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY
PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY
UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND
OHSU SCHOOL OF DENTISTRY

###

Media Contact

OHSU Communications
503 494-8231
Email Communications  Email OHSU